Elegant onion domes and colorful, stylized icons bear witness to the influence of Alaska's Russian heritage.
In 1794, Catherine the Great acceded to Grigory Shelikhov's request to establish an Orthodox mission at Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island, the first Russian settlement in North America. Missionaries and priests began schools for Alaska Native children, teaching Russian language, religion and vocational skills.
Ioann Veniaminov, later named Bishop Innocent, was the first Orthodox bishop of Alaska. Working with Alaska Native leaders, Innocent translated church texts into Aleut and Tlingit languages, and documented Alaska Native languages.
In 1808, the capital of Russian America was moved to Sitka, and became the seat of the Bishop of Kamchatka, the Kurile and Aleutian Islands, and Alaska. In 1844 Bishop Innocent authorized construction of the Cathedral of St. Michael, the first Orthodox cathedral in north America. The cathedral, burned in 1966 and now fully restored, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an important representative of Russian cultural influence in North America.
Orthodox Christianity continues to play a major role in the lives of many Alaska Natives and others in the Southeast, Southwest, and Southcentral regions. Visitors to Sitka, Kenai. Unalaska and the Aleutian Islands in particular can explore the lovely churches and their beautiful artwork, and are usually very welcome to participate in a service if they choose to do so.